For the Birds

Hey y’all!

Welcome to another edition of Life Is So Beautiful. I’m Hugh Hollowell, your somewhat misanthropic host, who is this day thankful for breezes and birdsong.

It happens sometimes. I get frustrated with humans – I always love people, but it’s the collective I can’t abide at times – and of late, that’s where I’ve been. They seem to be coming at faster intervals, these periods of dissatisfaction with humanity. The last few years have shown that however kind we may be one on one, our collective desire to solve chronic problems is virtually nonexistent.

When this happens, the surest cure for me is to take a break and spend my time in the dirt. The smell of soil and fresh-cut grass, the tactile sensation of moist clay between my fingers, the immediate sensation of a mission accomplished, and the delayed payoff of flowers or blooms later combine to hit all my happy triggers.

So Saturday, after seeing a dear friend get treated like trash on social media for – gasp – having an educated opinion she dared to post on, of all the places, her own profile, I turned off the machine and went out into the yard.

I haven’t spent as much time in the yard over the pandemic as some have. It took more executive function than I had to plan and execute, especially with the sky-high costs of materials and the supply chain issues. I would get bursts of inspiration, followed by purchases of plants or seeds and then the motivation would slide into the slough of despair, and my plants would die their sad neglected death in what a friend called the plant graveyard, which is in a bright spot on the north side of my house.

But in the before times, it was my happy place. In our previous home in NC, I had a wild, rowdy cottage garden, overwhelmed with flowers 10 months of the year. I was excited about moving further south, where it’s possible with care to have things that bloom year-round. But then there were two years of foster parenting, two years of the pandemic, and a good year of pretty fair depression (all of which overlapped at various points), and so, we are 3.5 years in our new home and it’s nowhere near where I had planned for it to be at this point.

But I felt ready. I planted a few things that had survived the graveyard. I weeded a few beds. I sat on the swing in the yard and listened to the birdsong. I noticed the temperature difference under our front yard magnolia and the sidewalk and gave thanks to the tree for shading us and for the efforts of the people whose efforts 70 years ago gave us this tree, and this shade, today.

When you’re frustrated with people, what’s your solution? Feel free to either hit reply or leave an answer in the comments.

Things I thought were beautiful

I recently discovered that people putting cameras at their bird feeders is a thing. An Instagram account I follow, ostdrossel, does this well. She also has a camera at her water feature, which captured these baby raccoons playing in it, and I just can’t handle the cute, y’all.

Maria Popova is a person I greatly admire, and who is so prolific it’s scary. She is the creative force behind The Marginialian, a site that defies explanation, but that is filled with “mind-broadening and heart-lifting reflections spanning art, science, poetry, philosophy, and other tendrils of our search for truth, beauty, meaning, and creative vitality.” I recommend the whole thing, but check out this video, which contains a prose poem by the physicist Richard Feynman, with animation from Kelli Anderson, and accompanied by music from Yo-Yo Ma.

The decline of the Christian faith as a dominant cultural force in Europe has led to many beautiful, abandoned buildings. In this photo-heavy essay, the photographer Roman Robroek talks a bit about that, but the main thing I wanted you to see were the stunning photos that accompany it.

Anthropomorphic bears in oil paintings. That’s the whole thing. (If you are of a certain age, the Swear Bears may put you over the top).

Alexandra Yakovchuk is a Russian photographer who lived with dermatitis. She started a project she calls The Skin, which photographs women with “skin imperfections” in ways that make them feel beautiful. Much of the coverage I have found is in Russian, but here is an article with more context and pictures, and here is their Instagram feed. (Mostly safe for work, depending, I guess, on where you work.)

Guilty Pleasure

I don’t actually believe in guilty pleasures – we like what we like. But I recently discovered the new BBC show Sister Boniface. It’s a spin-off of the popular Father Brown series that also has a crime-solving Religious and takes place in a small village in 1950s England. But unlike Father Brown, it has strong, smart women lead characters, who are treated with respect by their male peers, and it also shows religious people (like nuns) as complex, multi-dimensional characters. It’s also adorable.

Thank You!

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